Blake versus Bono: “Songs of Innocence” Then & Now

by Niall McArdle

source: apple
source: apple

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, you probably know that U2 has released their new album, Songs of Innocence, a collection of songs about the band’s younger days growing up on the Northside of Dublin. You can download the album for free from Apple here.


Some of the critics have been less than kind to the album, perhaps justifiably so: I’ve listened to it a few times and regard it as far from their best work.


With a title like Songs of Innocence, of course, Bono and the boys are inviting comparisons to the magnificent collection of poems by William Blake.


So who’s the more interesting lyricist, the prophetic engraver of the Romantic Age who supported revolution or the man who owns 45% of Forbes Magazine?


Let’s compare some of the lyrics of the two poets, shall we?

First, a selection of Blake’s poetry


from “The Shepherd” 

How sweet is the Shepherd’s sweet lot!
From the morn to the evening he strays;
He shall follow his sheep all the day,
And his tongue shall be filled with praise.

For he hears the lamb’s innocent call,
And he hears the ewe’s tender reply;
He is watchful while they are in peace,
For they know when their Shepherd is nigh.


from “The Echoing Green”

The Sun does arise,
And make happy the skies.
The merry bells ring,
To welcome the Spring,
The sky-lark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around,
To the bells cheerful sound,
While our sports shall be seen
On the Echoing Green.


“Nurse’s Song”

When the voices of children are heard on the green,
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast,
And everything else is still.

‘Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of night arise;
Come, come leave off play, and let us away
Till the morning appears in the skies.’

‘No, no, let us play, for it is yet day,
And we cannot go to sleep;
Besides, in the sky the little birds fly,
And the hills are all cover’d with sheep.’

‘Well, well, go and play till the light fades away,
And then go home to bed.’
The little ones leapèd, and shoutèd, and laugh’d
And all the hills echoèd.

source: blake
source: blake

from “Holy Thursday”

Twas on a Holy Thursday, there innocent cheeks clean,
The children walking two and two, in red and blue and green,
Grey headed beadles walk’d before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul’s they like Thames’ waters flow.


from “The Little Boy Lost”

Father! father! where are you going?
O do not walk so fast.
Speak, father, speak to your little boy,
Or else I shall be lost.

The night was dark, no father was there;
The child was wet with dew;
The mire was deep, & the child did weep,
And away the vapour flew.


Now, the Bard of Ballymun Killiney

source: dublinpeople
source: dublinpeople

from “The Troubles”

You think it’s easier
To put your finger on the trouble
When the trouble is you
And you think it’s easier
To know your own tricks
Well, it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do

Bono and one of the other Ramones. source:
Bono and one of the other Ramones. source:

from “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)”

We’ve got language so we can communicate
Religion so I can love and hate
Music so I can exaggerate my pain
And give it a name
I was young, not dumb
Just wishing to be blinded
By you, brand new
And we were pilgrims on our way


from “California”

Watching you cry like a baby
At the dawn you thought would never come
But it did
Like it always does

source: emilyhauserinmyhead
source: emilyhauserinmyhead

from “Song for Someone”

You got a face not spoiled by beauty,

I have some scars from where I’ve been.

You got eyes that can see right through me,

you’re not afraid of anything they’ve seen.

"A Dog Called Hope" source:
“A Dog Called Hope” source:

4 thoughts on “Blake versus Bono: “Songs of Innocence” Then & Now

    1. i used to like Mr Hewson’s lyrics quite a lot. I spent a very pleasant hour last night listening to ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ after I had listened to the new album. Some of the songs, and some of the lyrics, on that album are just brilliant, and rather haunting.


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